ARTICLE: Inside the Millennial Brain: What They Really Want from Retailers

*This article first appeared on PayBright’s Talking Shop blog, a new website that the PayBright marketing team worked on to deliver the latest news, views, and ‘bright ideas’ to Canadian merchants and customers.*

You can find the original post here, as well as a host of other helpful articles!

The ‘Millennial archetype’ that may come immediately to mind? It’s a crude oversimplification. Think about it: this generation was born roughly between 1980 and 1994, encompassing those born pre-internet (old millennials like myself) and post-internet. They have witnessed a varying range of world events, economic collapses, wars, technologies, and more. The breadth and depth of their experience as consumers wildly varies.

Millennials are already a highly-coveted market for many retail businesses, big and small. To combat the oversimplification of roughly 27% of the Canadian population and attract them as customers to our e-commerce businesses, we need to think more strategically about what exactly they have in common, what their worries are, and why they are being credited with “changing the face of retail shopping.”

Part of the work of attracting Millennial customers begins with demystifying the myths around them, and getting to the heart of what they want, and what their needs and concerns are right now.

It’s true: Millennials ARE snowflakes. No two look the same.

The first thing to acknowledge is that ‘Millennial’ is not a one-size-fits-all demographic. According to a Boston Consulting Group report, “The Millennial Consumer: Debunking Stereotypes,” there are (at the very least) six different kinds of Millennials that we can build a buyer persona around, and better target our specific Millennial market:

  • Hip-ennial: Cautious, charitable, social media-savvy
  • Millennial Mom: Wealthy, family-focused, digital-savvy
  • Anti-Millennial: Locally-minded and conservative
  • Gadget Guru: Successful, free-spirited, wired
  • Clean and Green Millennial: Cause-driven, healthy, enjoys content
  • Old School Millennial: cautious, charitable, not as wired

As Millennials are this diverse, retailers will need to look at this target market with more scrutiny and specificity, asking: What’s their ethical stance? What is their financial situation? What about their technological proficiency level? To whom would my product or service be most useful?

And that’s just the beginning. Answering these questions as they relate to an in-store or e-commerce business will help retailers to adjust their marketing tactics and produce products that meet the needs and desires of this very motley crew.

Millennials expect an omnichannel shopping experience that meets their technological needs.

Whether in-store or online, 68% of Millennials demand a seamless omnichannel experience, especially when it comes to customer service. Offering them multiple options like the use of self-customer service, but also providing access to customer service agents via social media, chatbot, or phone is your best bet for catering to the needs of this diverse segment of the population.

Optimizing your e-commerce or in-store business with the latest technologies (including AR and VR) to provide the best, modern shopping experience will be key here, as shopping technology is part of the Millennial palette. All have had significant exposure to and adoption of new communications technologies including the Internet, mobile phones and tablets, and a revolving door of personal entertainment media (think VHS tapes, cassettes, DVDs, Blue Ray, iPods, iPads, and more!).

As a result, they have come to expect their retail experience to be user-friendly and optimized with technologies that make for a simple, hassle-free, informative experience. That is, they value built-in tools which provide them with enough rich information to buy the right product or service at the right price.

(Oh, and if you’re an e-commerce business, you better make sure it’s easy to buy from you from a mobile device, as Millennials do much of their research, and purchasing, from the palms of their hands.)

“No worries. I’ll do it myself.” Many Millennials are empowered by self-service while shopping.

While many Millennials do enjoy the perks of an in-store experience and readily-available customer service staff, they also value (and expect) the option of self-service, either in a physical retail setting, or online. For up-and-coming Gen Z-ers, they more aggressively favour self-service, and according to The New York Times will be the generation of “DIY-ers.”

Given that there is a spectrum of expectations across these audiences, how can retailers best structure their businesses to meet these diverse needs? The answer is to provide what both Gen-Z-ers and Millennials value most these days, personally and professionally: CHOICE. And if the choice isn’t there, it could hurt your conversions, says Wired: “If they can’t quickly resolve their own problems, they will give up and go elsewhere, knowing that many alternatives are just a Google search away.”

For instance, in-store businesses may consider adding more price-check and inventory machines throughout a retail space. Adding more self-checkout kiosks in addition to multiple human cashiers can meet multiple audiences in how they want to pay for their wares, too.

In an e-commerce setting, retailers and service providers in the fashion, beauty, electronics, or home goods spaces could tighten up their customer service game by offering multiple self-service DIY options including FAQ pages, chatbots, customer support via social media, and other means of communication. Indeed, with product reviews, descriptions, and self-serve checkout a reality in online shops, the e-commerce game is built with self-service in mind.

Did you know? North American Millennials tend to favour Apple, Target, Nike, and Amazon as their favourite retail brands. They also spend more per year on groceries, smart phones, electronics, hobbies, and clothing.

For Millennials, the shopping ‘experience’ has meaning, both in-store or online.

‘Customer experience’ has often been a vague term, but Millennials have begun to crystallize it, because it is a vital piece in their shopping journey. A recent Adobe report (surveying 1,500 U.S. adults) found that “expectations for customer experience are much higher coming from the Millennial age group than ever before.”

In-store, for instance, Millennials seek unique experiences. According to Canadian Grocer, an immersive shopping journey that Millennials value is interactive, entertaining, rewards them for their loyalty, is memorable, allows them to discover something new, and is educational (now that’s a tall order!).

A good customer experience is also built upon trust: interactions with brands that are true, authentic, and helpful will encourage brand loyalty. So, when you’re scrutinizing our business’ own customer experience profile, keep in mind that humanity, transparency, and support should be present at any stage of the customer’s interactions with your store.

… and they also want it now.

75% of surveyed Millennials report that the most important thing a business can do is value their time.

The ‘nowness’ of the Internet certainly helped to sow this seed. Millennials’ proficiency with real-time conversations and reactions on social media, and their instant access to information via search engines have made living in the now, and getting their needs met in the now, more pressing.

Money on their minds: Millennials have coveted a very special brand of debt-consciousness.

Millennials’ shopping behaviour and spending habits are always impacted by their financial situations, which are as diverse as this demographic is. Credit debt is common among them, and for many, building up savings and being able to invest in larger-ticket items (home or car ownership, for instance) can be a long and winding road. For Millennials, being debt-free commonly feels like a pipe dream.

Mark Donaldson, a financial advisor in the GTA, notes some major factors impacting the financial independence of Millennials. “The most significant difference for Millennial investors has been the lack of a normal interest rate environment for the entirety of their adult lives,” he says. “For about a decade now, interest rates have teetered around their theoretical lower bounds, and this environment has had two significant impacts. First, it has created a housing market with borders to entry … there’s an inflationary housing market that rises quicker than other economic factors such as earnings ability.

“Second,” he says, “if a millennial aims at growing their capital to the point where she can enter the housing market, it is a difficult path. Short-term savings can’t attract the same types of interest rates their parents achieved and so Millennials have to seek out riskier propositions to grow capital at a rate that competes with the inflation of the housing market.”

Added to this are the spends built into a modern Millennial lifestyle, like post-secondary education: “Millennials have significantly higher built-in costs to their early adulthood. Education cost has grown at an inflation rate faster than the general economy, creating a burden for those who need an education before participating in the same economy. Technology requirements like exorbitant cell phone and internet bills bite into the millennial’s ability to save and there is little argument that optimal participation in our society demands access to these expensive tools.”

One way for this audience to combat the growing bills? Donaldson suggests something simple: write it down, and account for every penny. “If you don’t have a written plan, you have no plan at all.”

While Millennials can begin the work of making fiduciary sacrifices and stowing away any expendable income for later (if they are indeed able to), it is a lengthy process. So, in the meantime, merchants should capitalize on deals, flexible payment options, and other aspects of your product or service that can help, rather than hurt, this budget-conscious audience.

Want to learn more about how to optimize your business to attract Millennial audiences? Check out these extra readings, full of bright ideas on how to do just that.

  • “How Customer Service Must Adapt to the Largest Consumer Segment: Millennials” by ICMI
  • “How to Deliver Excellent Customer Service to Millennials” by Talkdesk
  • “What Millennials Want When They Shop Online” by Forbes

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